Prior to containerisation (April 26, 1956), all non-bulk cargoes were loaded and unloaded by people on the dock, the definition of breakbulk referring to any cargo except dry and liquid pouring.
Large-capacity vessels are a relatively new invention in the long history of transportation. The first bulker, SS John Bowes, was launched in 1852 and the first oil tanker, Zoroaster, in 1878. Prior to this, dry cargo was loaded into sacks, liquid cargo barrels. So, before the mid 1800s, every load was what we call breakbulk today.
The basic definition of Breakbulk today is any single piece of cargo that does not fit in a container and is not transported in bulk. Breakbulk refers to unit loads that are not in ore form, such as metal nuggets or pulp bales. This load can be anything from forest products to paper rolls, steel beams, metal drums and much larger products.
Vehicles shipped on roll-on / roll-off ships are an exception. Vehicles are suitable for other types of recognition but are not considered to be breakbulk.
There are also differences between the combined cargoes in the upper dimension. Whether it is an oil project, a wind farm or something else, there is the definition of “project cargo” required for a particular project and the definition of “heavy lift” referring to very large objects such as turbines or gantry cranes.
Heavy Lift represents the highly specialized upper end of its size spectrum. The lower end consists of general cargo ships equipped with breakbulk transport small cranes and “multipurpose” (MPP) vessels.
The breakbulk market has shrunk for several reasons.
When we consider container port construction projects of developing countries, structural, technological, etc. we encounter a reality. On the one hand, the development process creates demand and opportunities for project cargoes and heavy loads to be transported to the field, on the other hand, after a new container terminal is completed, dependency on that port increases.
Loads unloaded by small general cargo ships that once used their own cranes are now shipped with container ships and discharged using terrestrial cranes.
Meanwhile, new technologies affect the breakbulk market share. For example, in an undeveloped area, the project is handled with a tugged floating crane system. This opportunity reduces costs by eliminating the need to build a private port for the project.
Let’s not forget that a built port will create demand and market for breakbulk ships.
Ships without a breakbulk also have market threats. Roll-on / roll-off ships and pure car and truck carries (PCTCs) ships. For example, if a breakbulk cargo such as an electrical transformer fits into the trailer, this trailer can be loaded on a vehicle carrier.
Containers and bulk ships are also trying to transport a breakbulk. In the case of container ships, a strange-shaped cargo is put into an open-top container unit or a flat console as well as bulk operators can transport large items, such as wind turbine blades, in cargo holds.